The President’s Lady

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“I stood for a moment over the great brass seal, J. bearing the national coat of arms, which is sunk in the floor in the middle of the entrance hall. ‘The Seal of the President of the United States,’ I read around the border, and now—that meant my husband!” Thus did Helen Herron TaIt describe her feelings as she entered the White House on Inauguration Day. Most presidential wives have shared her pride, but not all have experienced the same breathless anticipation of the lour years ahead. “I had rather be a doorkeeper in the house of God, than live in that palace in Washington,” commented Rachel Jackson—who, as fate would have it, died of a heart attack shortly before her husband assumed office. To Lucrctia Gal field, the prospect seemed even frightening. “What a terrible responsibility to come to him—and to me,” she exclaimed on election night of 1880. Some have shrunk from that responsibility, others have endured it bravely, and a few have thoroughly enjoyed their brief celebrity. Like it or not, the President’s lady has become, over the years, a kind of unofficial officer of the government: presidential hostess, informal envoy, political campaigner. And wife, of course. Rutherford B. Hayes best expressed this aspect of her role. Referring to his wife, Lucy, he said, “Mrs. Hayes may not have much influence with Congress, but she has great influence with me.” Here and on the next pages is a gallery of some of the great ladies who have presided over the President’s House—“that palace in Washington.”